From the Director


by Rex Parker, PhD

Return to Peyton Hall! After completing HVAC renovations and moving the entire Astrophysics Department back into Peyton Hall, Princeton University has graciously accepted our request to return to the Peyton Hall Auditorium for the new season. Beginning with our September 8 program we will convene again at 7:30pm in Peyton. Please see Ira’s column for information about the speaker presentation.

At the Sept. 8 meeting. we’ll also discuss plans for the two events items described below. I hope that you’ll take advantage of the astronomical delicacies that we’re serving up.

Upcoming AAAP Events

  • Jersey StarQuest, Sept 11/12. Here’s a redesign of the Star Party concept – to make it easier to participate with a focus on hands-on observational astronomy. Even if you don’t own a telescope, here’s your chance!
    • Walkin registration, no advance payment, no pre-registration needed. You can decide to attend at the last minute. We do ask that you send in a non-binding intent-to-participate form, if possible, so we can estimate needs for the Hope Conference Center. Download the form and more information here.
    • AAAP member event, a chance to make friends in the club. You’re also welcome to invite family and friends who may not yet be members.
    • Reduced prices: the cost per night is $20 for adults and $10 for children (ages 6-12), regardless of choice of bunkhouse or tent/RV camping.
    • No meals will be provided by the club. You should bring your own food and plates etc. The center’s kitchen will be available, and we may self-organize for carry-out food from local establishments. Hot and cold drinks will be available throughout the weekend.
  • Star Picnic and Astro Equipment Auction, Oct 18. (Oct 25 rain date). Start at 3:00pm at the pavilion next to the Nature Center at Washington Crossing State Park. Featuring:
    • Cookout picnic at the pavilion, with fun food and drinks and camaraderie with AAAP members and families.
    • Silent auction of telescopes, mounts, eyepieces and other astronomy equipment which AAAP has acquired in recent years. Since we have limited storage space these items definitely must go — this can be an opportunity to acquire astro equipment at incredibly low prices. More details will be provided next month.
    • Observing session will be held that evening at the nearby observatory if skies permit (note, sunset at 6:15pm).

 Celestron-14 Telescope Test – Results. Several members gathered on Aug 26 at WC Observatory for telescope and mount enhancement work. The Hastings 6.25-inch refractor was temporarily dismounted and the new C14 was placed onto the second Paramount-ME. This allowed unbiased, direct side-by side optical performance comparison of the newer and older C14’s on identical Paramounts.

First, Bill Murray and I adjusted collimation of both telescopes using the defocused diffraction pattern of a 3rd magnitude star to precisely center the secondary mirrors; collimation was equivalent for the two scopes. Star diagonals were removed and nearly identical 31 and 34 mm 2-inch eyepieces were directly inserted. The nine gathered members then observed three selected objects back-to-back through the two scopes and voted on performance after each object.

The test objects were Saturn; M-11 (the rich, “wild duck” open star cluster); and the double star Izar (Epsilon Boötis, mag 2.4 and 5.1, 3 arc-sec). Results were unequivocal: 7 of 8 members consistently favored the newer C14 images for all three objects (one observer did not vote). To my eye, the difference was surprisingly apparent. The newer telescope provided sharper, pinpoint stellar images, and Saturn’s ring division was more detectable. The double star showed baseline resolution in the newer but not the older C14.

The next step will be to organize a work party to swap out the older C14 with the newer one on the original Paramount. We plan to sell the older C14. Thanks to Bill, Dave, Jen, John, Gene, Arshad, Ira, and Michael for helping make this a convincing optical test.

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Measuring and Modeling Variability in Quasars and Blazars

by Ira Polans, Program Chair

Dr. Paul Witta

Dr. Paul Witta, TCNJ Physics Department Chair

The first talk of the 2015-2016 season marks our return to Peyton Hall. The meeting will be held on September 8 at 7:30 PM. The talk is entitled “Measuring and Modeling Variability in Quasars and Blazars” by Dr. Paul J. Witta of the Department of Physics of The College of New Jersey.

Prior to the meeting there will be a meet the speaker dinner held at Winberies, Palmer Square in Princeton at 6PM. If you wish to attend please email no later than noon on September 8.

Dr. Witta’s talk will be about active galactic nuclei, including quasars, which are extraordinarily powerful, emitting up to thousands of times as much energy as all the stars in their host galaxies. A minority of them also eject relativistic jets of plasma that form giant radio lobes. All active galactic nuclei are characterized by variability and blazars exhibit the strongest fluctuations. This enhanced variability is due to Doppler boosting of the flux emitted by relativistic jets that point close to our line of sight. We have been measuring variability of quasars and blazars in the optical band from various ground-based telescopes for the past 20 years and have more recently employed the Kepler satellite as well as various X-ray telescopes to gather dense, uniformly spaced data. After setting the context, he will present some of these results, as well as our numerical simulations of variations of radio flux from the turbulent regions behind shocks in the jets.

Dr. Wiita received his PhD in Physics from Princeton in 1976 for producing the first numerical models of radio galaxies. He did post-docs at the Universities of Chicago and Cambridge. He was on the faculty at UPenn and Georgia State University and has been Chair of the Physics Department at TCNJ since 2010. He has been a visiting professor at the Tata Institute for Fundamental Research, the Indian Institute of Astrophysics and Princeton. His research has mostly been in extragalactic astronomy, with a focus on radio loud active galaxies.

The October meeting features a talk by Scott Nammacher about building a private remotely controlled observatory in upstate New York for astrophotography and imaging. More details will appear in Sidereal Times as it gets closer to the October meeting.


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Star Quest 2015 – September 11 – 13

Gene Ramsey, ready to go copy

Gene Ramsey, ready to go. Credit: Ludy D’ Angelo

StarQuest is on for September 11 – 13, 2015 at Hope Conference Center in Hope, New Jersey!

This year’s event will continue the simplifying trend of recent years with a focus on observing and socializing, and with significantly lower costs for attendees.  Bring your own observing equipment or meander between the telescopes of others in the group who will be happy to share their views of the sky with you.  Bill Murray will be creating a “Deep Sky Challenge” for those desiring to participate.

To be flexible, the event will be walk-in/pay-as-you-go for each night of attendance.  There will be no prepayment and no need to formally pre-register.  However, to communicate with Hope Conference Center our needs for the weekend, we ask that you fill out a non-binding, intention-to-attend form.  Your response will place you on an email list through which all final communication about the event will take place.  Please an email to for the form.

The event is open to all AAAP members and their family.  Members may invite select friends who have inquired about our event.  Please send this email to those who want to attend that may not be on our AAAP member email list so they can be informed and respond accordingly.

Accommodations will be men’s and women’s bunkhouses or you can bring your own tent or RV.  Bathroom and shower facilities are available.  The cost per night is $20 for adults and $10 for children (ages 6-12), regardless of choice of accommodation.

There will be no club prepared meals. The kitchen facilities at the center will be available for our use, however.  There has been discussion of ordering takeout food for the group. Those not inclined to take-out should feel free to band together to visit the local eating establishments or bring their own meals.  Hot and cold drinks and munchies will be available throughout the weekend.

In case of bad or questionable weather, the event will be cancelled. The go/no go decision will be made on the Thursday evening before the event and notification will be made via email.  Please check your email before leaving for the event.

Your intent-to-attend response and any other questions or correspondence should be sent to:

Regards, the StarQuest Team

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Minutes of the August 2015 Board Meeting of the AAAP

by Jim Poinsett, Secretary

  • Rex brought the meeting to order at 7:00 p.m.
  • The first topic of the evening was that Peyton Hall should be ready for our September meeting. Rex will keep us informed. (It has since been confirmed that we will be back in Peyton Hall beginning with the September meeting).
  • Ira Polans announced that the Program Committee (Ira, Prasad Ganti, John Miller) has five speakers already confirmed for the upcoming meeting season.
  • The website is going through a thorough re-design by Surabhi Agarwal and Michael Wright and will hopefully be finished within 60 days. Members may preview the format at . This is a temporary site and may not be available at all times.
  • It was discussed how well the video was working for the observatory with the makeshift monitor and computers. It should only be better when all the new equipment is in place. One of the upgrades is a quality analog to digital converter to replace the generic one in use for testing.
  • Upcoming plans for the observatory include mounting the 10” Newtonian on the same mount as the HB refractor and testing the two C-14 scopes in our possession side by side to decide if one has noticeably better optics than the other. A work party is planned for August 26th.
  • The club will have a picnic on Sunday Oct 18th at the pavilion by the Nature Center in Washington Crossing Park provided the facilities are available. The rain date would be Oct 25th. An observing session will follow the picnic at the observatory provided the skies are clear enough. Rex will contact the park about availability.
  • StarQuest was discussed and it was decided to make it an observing-centered event. No advance registration will be required, and no food will be provided. Details will be sent out to all club members and should have been received by the time these minutes are published. If you missed them, click here.
  • It was decided to rotate the team schedule for the observatory so the same teams are not always working the same weekends every year. Team 2 will be the first team next year with Team 3 first the year after that and so on.
  • Meeting adjourned at 8:55 as the library was closing.
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ISRO Launches Satellite to Geostationary Orbit

by S. Prasad Ganti

GSLV-D6 on the Launch Pad Credit: ISRO

GSLV-D6 on the Launch Pad Credit: ISRO

Indian Space Research Organization launched a communication satellite. On the surface of it, it may not be a big piece of news. But since I have been following the space news from ISRO as much as I do from NASA or SpaceX, there are some baby steps leading to something bigger.
The two-ton satellite called GSAT-6 is well on its way to geostationary orbit. It stays in the same place above the Indian subcontinent providing communication services to the country. Launched aboard GSLV-D6 (Geostationary Satellite Launch Vehicle), the satellite was placed in a geostationary transfer orbit or GTO. The satellite will then use its own propulsion to reach the final orbit about 36,000 kms above the Earth where it will be parked in a fixed slot for rest of its life.

About 60% of the two-ton satellite is fuel to propel it into the higher geostationary orbit. Afterwards the fuel is burnt to operate the communications equipment to provide services to the country for nine years.

India has developed complex satellites before and attained a level of maturity in building satellites, but the launch capability was lagging behind. Some of the earlier satellites were launched using foreign launch vehicles like European Space Agency’s Ariane. Lifting a two-ton satellite into a GTO requires more power and complexity. The current launch vehicle GSLV uses three stages to give the payload a heavy boost.

The first stage is powered by solid fuel. Like the first relay runner, a solid stage provides a massive push. The solid stage cannot be stopped once ignited. It cannot be controlled easily. After a big push during the first few seconds of a rocket launch, its job is done, and it falls back to the Earth. The second stage is powered by liquid fuels. A liquid fuel and an oxidizer are stored in separate tanks and are pumped into  a combustion chamber to generate the thrust. The liquid stage is controllable since the pumps can be slowed down or turned off. These two stages were mastered in the earlier phases of India’s space program.

The third stage is powered by cryogenic engines. Cryogenics means dealing with super cooled matter close to absolute zero of -273 degrees Kelvin. The super cooled fuel and oxidizer give lot of punch per unit of weight. These propellants are difficult to handle and tame in an engine. The technology is so complex that very few countries in the world have this capability. The first two Indian attempts in 2010 led to failures. In 2014, the first successful launch with cryogenic engines took place. This is the second successful launch and augurs well for the Indian space program.

Next in line is the launch of newer generation of GSLV called Mark 3, which is very likely to happen in next couple of years. Each succeeding generation of space vehicles leads to more lifting capabilities, and more mastery over space launches. Whether it is SpaceX, NASA, ISRO, ESA or JSA, it only bodes well for humanity’s future in space.

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UACNJ Symposium

Jenny JumpAnnual Astronomy Symposium
September 26, 2015
A special event at the UACNJ facility in Jenny Jump State Forest, Hope, NJ

Indoor events will take place rain or shine.
All observing subject to weather conditions.

Solar Telescope Observing, Chris Callie, NWJAA
1:00 PM
Welcome to Jenny Jump State Forest and UACNJ, Ernie Kabert, Park Superintendent and Diane Jeffer, UACNJ President, NWJAA
1:30 PM
A Tourist in the Universe, Karl Hricko, AAI, NWJAA
2:30 PM
Intro to the Geology & Physiography of NJ, Joseph Molnar, MMAS
3:30 PM
Eclipses and Occultations, Gregg Waldron, NWJAA
4:30 PM
How the Sun’s Surface Affects Earth’s Surface, Dr. Andrew Gerard, NJIT
5:30 to 7:00 PM
Food available for purchase
5:30 to 6:00 PM
Tour of the Observatory, Bill Eberly, MMAS
5:30 to 7:00 PM
Saving Hubble, documentary film by David Gaynes
7:00 PM
The Human Side of the Hubble Story, David Gaynes, documentary filmmaker
8:00 PM
Public Night at UACNJ Observatory, (regularly scheduled free event), Photography in Astronomy, Stan Honda, AAA
9:00 PM to Midnight
Star Party

Suggested donation will be collected onsite: $20 per adult and $10 per child under 12.
For more information, please visit or write to

Bring your own telescope or binoculars – or look through ours. Join us for a free program at our facilities in Jenny Jump State Forest every Saturday evening. Our free Saturday evening programs begin at 8:00 PM. Following a lecture on an astronomy-related topic, the public is invited to view the night sky (weather permitting) through our telescopes until 10:30 PM.

Programs and speakers for September and October:
9/5/2015 What’s up in the September Sky? Lonny Buinis, RVCC
9/12/2015 Multicultural Look at the Sky Sean Post, NWJAA
9/19/2015 Sudden Ionospheric Disturbances Mark Phillips, NWJAA
9/26/2015 Photography in Astronomy Stan Honda, AAA
10/3/2015 What’s up in the October Sky? Lonny Buinis, RVCC
10/10/2015 Mars: From Canals to Curiosity & Beyond Gary DeLeo, Lehigh U.
10/17/2015 Telescopes for Amateurs Bill Murray, AAAP
10/24/2015 Let’s Live in Space Karl Hricko, AAI,NWJAA
10/31/2015 What’s Up in the Winter Sky? Lonny Buinis, RVCC

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Adirondack Astrophotography Workshop

by David Skitt

Last week, Jennifer and I had the opportunity to visit the Adirondack Public Observatory in Tupper Lake, NY for a daytime tour.  Their mission is “to provide quality educational experiences for people of all ages through the science, technology and history of astronomy” under the dark skies that the Adirondack Mountains provide.  I encourage you to check out their website to learn more about their mission, methods and to see their large Roll-Off-Roof observatory.

While visiting with Carol Levy and Gordie Duval (President and Vice President of the group) they informed me of their upcoming Astrophotography Workshop scheduled for September 18-20, 2015.  They were very enthusiastic about the event, and I promised them I would spread the word to AAAP members.  The event takes place in Tupper Lake, NY, which is about a 6.5 hour drive from the Princeton area. More information about the event can be viewed here:

Jennifer and I can attest to the dark skies of the Adirondack Mountains. Where we stayed in Speculator, NY, the Milky Way was visible horizon to horizon, and the Andromeda Galaxy was visible with the unaided eye.  We can only imagine how enjoyable learning astrophotography would be under the Adirondack dark skies.  If interested in this event, feel free to call the APO office at (518) 359-3538.  They should be able to recommend places to stay and suggest making arrangements now as the fall-foliage followers tend to flock to the area around the same time as the workshop.

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M27, the Dumb Bell Nebula


M27, the Dumb Bell Nebula 21:14 EDT July 23, 2006. Starlight Express SXV-H9 on 10″ RCOS at f/9. Ha = 64 min, O-III = 96 min L = Ha+OIII, R = Ha, G = O-III, B = O-III (guided 4-minute subexposures). Richardson-Lucy deconv, Gamma stretch. Credit: Robert Vanderbei:

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July 2015 Blue Moon

Blue Moon by Member Robert Vanderbei

Blue Moon by Member Robert Vanderbei

July 30, 2014, 22:35 EDT (8 hours before actual full fullness)
Canon 450D on 10″ RC
Four-image Mosaic of 8-image stacks.
Exposure: 1/2400 sec at ISO 800.

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